These days we're hearing a lot about the rising incidence of chronic preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. These problems share a common denominator in that they all result from metabolic processes in the body that have gone awry.
Metabolism refers to all the biochemical processes that occur in the body in order to maintain life. These processes are tightly regulated by hormones and play out like an elegant symphony. Unfortunately, a number of factors can negatively impact metabolic processes, and lead to health problems.
Altered metabolic processes, and the problems they cause, can evolve over many years. Too often, people don't realize that they have a problem until they develop a serious health condition. Our health care system does not do a very good job of catching these problems early, but health care providers have started screening for Metabolic Syndrome, a disorder that increases risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. This syndrome is actually a group of conditions that indicate unhealthy metabolic function. Metabolic Syndrome is diagnosed if you have 3 out of 5 of the following:
- a waist circumference larger than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man
- a blood pressure measuring more than 130/85 (or if you take blood pressure medications)
- a fasting blood sugar higher than 100 mg/dl (or if you take medications to control your blood sugar)
- a blood triglyceride level higher than 150 mg/dl (or if you take medications to control your triglycerides)
- an HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) level lower than 50 mg/dl in women or 40 mg/dl in men
If you are concerned about Metabolic Syndrome, or any of the diseases linked to unhealthy metabolism, here are four ways you can cultivate a healthy metabolism.
- Practice healthy self-care. Metabolic disorders are prevented in the same ways that they are treated. Adopting a healthy food plan (like a Mediterranean-style diet ), getting regular aerobic exercise , reducing salt, getting enough good-quality sleep and managing stress are all positive self-care approaches that are linked to healthier metabolism.
- Know your numbers - It is useful to learn how to measure your waist circumference so that you can monitor changes yourself. When you have visits with your health care provider, make note of the results of your fasting blood glucose, lipid panels and blood pressure measurements. You don't have to wait for your provider to let you know when you are getting into a danger zone. Pay attention to smaller gradual increases over time, and if you have a concern, ask your health care provider about it.
- Pay attention to body composition - Although obesity is linked to metabolic syndrome some people can be "thin on the outside, fat on the inside" (TOFI). Body composition goes beyond weight to look at what percentages of your body are composed of water, lean dry mass, and fat. If you're chronically dehydrated, your body can't get rid of toxins efficiently (see number 4 below). If your muscle mass is decreasing, your metabolic rate will decrease as well. If your overall body fat is more than 30% for women or 21% for men, you are at increased risk for metabolic syndrome. The most accurate way to measure body composition is with a DEXA scan, but that creates unnecessary radiation. Body Impedance Analysis (BIA) is a non-invasive, safe method to provide a snapshot of body composition. BIA reports (like this sample that I use with my partners) can be a useful tracking tool to monitor changes in body composition.
- Love your liver - A condition known as Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is associated with metabolic syndrome and makes it worse. When your liver becomes fatty, it doesn't function as well. Among other things, it starts to produce too much glucose and "bad" cholesterol (LDL). Your liver, as the main detoxifying organ in your body, is under a lot of stress, so making sure that it is not overworked can help it be healthier. You can decrease the workload on your liver in some of the following ways:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1 serving a day for women or 2 for men.
- Limit sugar intake to no more than 5% of your daily calories.
- Limit the number of medications (including over the counter and herbal supplements) that your liver must process.
- Avoid environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, and chemical additives.
- Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet so that your liver has what it needs to do its job. Research is ongoing about specific nutritional recommendations, but cruciferous vegetables like broccoli have been demonstrated to dramatically boost the liver's detoxification pathways. If you have any nutritional deficiencies, get recommendations from your health care provider about how to correct these.
What about you? What changes have you made to keep your metabolism healthy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!